Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Former City Hall of Hernando

 The "...former city hall housed a fire truck, jail cell, and vault when it was built in 1941..." (Crum, M. June 1, 2009. "Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce relocating." The Commercial Appeal.)  And that, as Forest Gump said, is all I have to say about that.  And, it is apparently all anyone has to say about the simple building that served as Hernando's City Hall until 1979 when the new City Hall complex was built (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).
 The building currently houses City Hall Cheesecake--the kind you eat.  Devoid of design except for a simple stepped parapet wall, the gray-painted brick building has remained in use since its government days were over.
 The front window has been remodeled as evidenced by the change in brick, and some windows on the side have been enclosed.
Of course, when I saw the cornerstone from 1941, and a city hall, and a simple building, ya'll know I was thinking perhaps an undocumented New Deal building.  So far, no evidence exists to that effect and I have exhausted my search of newspaper archives for now.  Sometimes, after a break, I search with slightly different terms and can unearth something, but this one evades me for now.  After all, it took over a year to find out about that Newscastle gym.  Mississippi certainly got its share of New Deal projects, and I am finding more and more of them, such as the Hattiesburg Water Works, and water works and sewage systems in at least six other cities so far.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DeWitt, Arkansas Post Office and Mural

 DeWitt is still using its 1939 post office.  The federal government appropriated $75,000 to construct the post office ("Dewitt Post Office, Dewitt, Arkansas County" retrieved from Arkansas Historic Preservation Program at arkansaspreservation.com).  It is, of course, remarkably similar to other post offices built during that time.  This design is seen throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Why should we care what post offices look like?  Aren't they simply utilitarian structures meant to facilitate the exchange of mail?  Why can't they all be boxes made of corrugated metal?  As usual, it's not that simple. (Donnelly, L. 2001, Architecture around us, Western Pennsylvania History, p. 8)
 Louis A. Simon, whose tenure [as supervising architect] covered the design of some 40,000 new post offices during the Depression, preferred an art deco version of the classical; one wag called it "Starved Classicism." (Donnelly)
Starved Classicism is defined by A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2nd ed.) as
Mean, thin, ill-proportioned, non-style, loosely based on Classicism but displaying little feeling for rules, proportions, details, and finesse, and lacking all verve and elan. It is not to be confused with stripped Classicism, which is usually robust, confident, powerful, and often Sublime.
 The building is similar to many National Register of Historic Places post offices identified as starved Classicism, but the NRHP form defines it as "a restrained interpretation of the Colonial Revival style of architecture."
 The post office contains a mural by William Traher, completed in 1941.  Traher was commissioned to execute the mural for $750 and went to DeWitt for three weeks to observe and study the community (Arkansas Historic Preservation Program).  As I was photographing the mural, the postmaster came out of her office on her way to lock up the windows for lunch.  She spoke, and asked about my interest in the mural.  I said I was working on research and she asked "about slavery?"  Well, no, about New Deal era buildings and the murals that are in many of the post offices built with those funds.  I gave her my business card, and the one from the Living New Deal project, explained about the work and how to find it using the search feature for the Living New Deal website.
 She added, "A lot of people criticize this for being here."  I said I was sure they did, because some of them were quite controversial now.  It raises a troubling question because on the one hand, it is historic art work that is very significant in its context, and on the other, it is painful and difficult for some people to view.  It is certainly not unusual in the south to see murals that contain images of slavery, or reflect the Jim Crow era, as this mural does, and that are criticized as insensitive.  Traher titled it "Portrait of Contemporary DeWitt," which in 1941, it no doubt was.

 Traher's remarks in his letter to the selection committee was profoundly revealing of his stereotypical views, his prejudice, and lack of awareness and understanding of the reasons for the very real differences in living conditions.  He allegedly just sort of wandered around, sketching out people he saw, making notes of the quiet and calm community, with the plan to put the mural together back in his studio.  Did people in DeWitt really let their hogs run loose?  I would think not--wouldn't you be concerned about them wandering off, getting stolen, or eating your crops or rooting around in your laundry?  It seems to me that might be some artistic license.

I find it equally unlikely that someone living in "town's handsomest and most historic  house" [the Halliburton House] would have the cows in the front yard with the kids, but maybe folks in DeWitt just liked their farm animals up close and personal.

I think what art such as this can do is to be used for teaching and understanding of history, of racism and the vestiges of inequality that continue to exist and damage us now, and provide opportunities for understanding.  But is it right to do that, particularly knowing that the "learning opportunity" (if it is even attempted) comes at a cost to someone else's emotional well-being, or sense of dignity and personhood?  It is a conversation that will not be easy to hear.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Memphis' Booker T. Washington High School

 The Booker T. Washington High School of Memphis made headlines back in 2011 when President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech to congratulate the school on raising achievement scores and graduation rates.  The school is located in the historic African American neighborhood along Lauderdale, near the Foote Homes.  I spied the striking Art Deco style building with its dramatic geometric design, and the rounded entrances that face the corner of two streets at the angled intersection of the neighborhood.  
While I can find information about the structure that stood on the spot earlier, and the history of the school that would become Booker T. Washington, I cannot yet locate specifics as to when this building was constructed.
 The historic arch from the new building, constructed in 1926, fronts the new school.  The BTW high school was originally founded as Clay Street School in 1873 and was among the first public high schools for African Americans in Memphis.  It was renamed Kortrecht High School in 1891.  Kortrecht built a new high school on the present location in 1926 and named it in honor of Booker T. Washington.

The website of the school is inspirational, and I particularly liked one of the school's core "Beliefs":
Given a safe, supportive and challenging environment, students will be able to accept shared responsibility for their own academic achievement.

Friday, July 18, 2014

At least it is Friday now

I made it back to Mississippi Wednesday night from Texas a little after 8 pm, thanks to an hour delay to drive 9 miles between Longview and Marshall.  Pretty sure it was faster and easier to make the trip home going across Mississippi and Arkansas even at 55 mph, and a whole lot prettier.  I was up Thursday morning to go give clinical exams for the next two days.

It was a busy 4 days after I got home to Texas last Friday night.  Sis had cleaning up dad's workshop/barn on her list, along with sprucing up the decks.  Dad wanted to go out to the barn with us Saturday morning to "supervise."  I think he thought we might throw away something, although we assured him we were just straightening and sweeping and getting out real trash, like empty feed bags, etc.  He wanted to go anyway, and we wheeled him down in the wheelchair to watch and keep us company.  Later, he came out on the deck to explain how to put the tomato cages on, since Sis had not gotten it done before the tomato plants got pretty big.  We all enjoyed the time and effort.  It was a wonderful day and he laughed and enjoyed being with us, and so did we, and all agreed it was worth it even though it really tired him out and sapped his limited strength.  I went back Tuesday afternoon and finished straightening the workbench, putting away tools, cleaning up some spilled screws, and sweeping out the rest of the shop.  Dad was always meticulous about putting away his tools, in their proper place, and keeping his work area clean and organized, and it was satisfying, if somewhat bittersweet, to be working in his space, organizing again.
Monday, Sis and I went to Wichita Falls for her doctor appointment, and shopping.  I have not been shopping in such a long time, and we had such fun and an amazing time.  We were looking for new pillows to use on the decks.  We did not finish with the decks or the breezeway that joins them, but I will be going back one more time in August, and we will finish up then, and get the other half of the shop.  I did my usual cleaning out of Rio's water trough as well, and spoiled him with treats and petting.
Tuesday evening, Tinka was feeling a little down in the dumps, and curled up on the pillows in the den.  I packed and loaded that night, and was up at 5:30 Wednesday to feed Rio and Jenny one last time before I left.  They were waiting at the gate when I went out.  Dad and Mom had wanted me to wake them and tell them bye before I left, and then I was on the road by 7.  I was making great time, and thought I would be home by 6 or 6:30, when I hit the snafu out of Longview.
I know construction traffic is annoying--I don't like it either.  But here's the way that I see it: when you get that warning sign that says right lane closed ahead, if everyone started merging over then, the traffic could keep moving.  True, it would be slower than 75, but it would move...steadily.  I moved over to the left lane, as did a whole lot of other folks who know there are times that playing by the rules is a good idea.  There are always those who think they are entitled to cut in line, though, and apparently, several hundred of them were on I-20 outside of Longview, Texas on Wednesday morning.
All I could see behind me or in front of me was a stretch of cars and trucks--mostly cars.  Perhaps because truck drivers communicate with each other, they tend to stay in the lane that is going to move.  Lots and lots of cars were going up the soon to close lane, until of course, it finally hit saturation point, they were all cutting over in front of the traffic, which would cause the vehicle to have to make a dead stop, and then both lanes were stopped.  So, the results of some folks not wanting to queue up meant that most all of us were at a dead standstill...for minutes at a time...

I recall when I learned about queuing for the first time.  I was in New York, and being from Texas where folks just walk up randomly and haphazardly and order, I had checked out the foods in the deli case and once I decided, looked up to order.  Someone behind me or beside me said, "Get in the queue, it's not your turn" or something to that effect.  Oops, "sorry, I did not mean to cut in line."  I just did not know that there was a line, being a rube from Texas and all.  Queuing is also common in England, Europe, and South Africa, and I do see it more and more in the US.  For sure, I am much more observant now about whether or not it is my turn.  Mississippi seems to have an issue with queuing at the 4-way stops, too, as in "I stopped, now I get to go" regardless of how many of the other 3 vehicles were there first and had already stopped.

In my next life, I shall be the Queue police, and have a little hover board.  When folks on the highway don't queue, I will pull them over and cite them, plus have them wait until all the cars they passed to cut in line have gone, plus, an extra 10 cars for punishment.  I will need a really good camera/computer database to keep up with that, won't I?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

First National Bank Building, De Witt, Arkansas

 Friday morning saw me on the road by 8 AM, and plans to drive across Arkansas again on my Texas trip.  It was a beautiful--if overcast--morning and I just drank in the sight of the green fields as I drove across to the Helena bridge.  I stopped at the Arkansas rest stop just across the river, and the woman at the desk was so helpful with information and we chatted for a bit as I explained why I was driving through Arkansas on state highways as opposed to the interstate.  She was a bit older than I am, so knew all about the New Deal and Arkansas' depression-era architecture.  I was actually headed to De Witt for a New Deal building, and had discovered their unique public square.  I have an interest in the variety of designs of public squares in small towns, and De Witt does lay claim to something that I had not seen before.

Parts of the square are still in use, and other buildings are shuttered and waiting for a revival.  Even though driving rural roads takes longer, I have become excited about the possibility of seeing the Americana opportunities in these small rural communities, and it is like a mini-vacation of sorts--the road trips to/from Texas are the closest thing to a vacation I may get for a while.  I kept thinking of during the Depression, and the beginning efforts to encourage motor tourism, and the role that the New Deal played in the development of that mode of tourism.
 The First National Bank of De Witt was designed in 1910 and opened in 1912.  It was remodeled in 1923 and in 1940.  FNB "survived the Depression to become the oldest bank in Arkansas County" (De Witt Commercial Historic District, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program).  They took over neighboring banks that failed during the 1920s and 1930s.
De Witt's banks had more money in them than in the banks of any other city of its size in the state.  (Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, encylopediaofarkansas.net)
The bank was designed with a canted door--an angled or cut-off corner or chamfer--as were many of the banks and drug stores during that time period.  Glass block was developed in the early 1900s (Klayman, J. Architects are rediscovering glass block. Masonry.  Retrieved from masonrymagazine.com), so the glass blocks could have been added during one of the later remodels.  One source said glass blocks were first developed in the 1800s, and one said not until 1931.  That is a pretty wide range, but I don't find definitive dates on it.

The telephone operated upstairs, and during the 1930s, the post office was located in the rear of the building.  It currently houses and antique/gift shop.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Parker County Courthouse, Weatherford

The courthouse for Parker County was designed by architect W. C. Dodson and built in 1886 (Historic Parker County Courthouse, Parker County Texas website).  "The style and design is similar to his other Texas courthouses in Hill, Hood and Lampasas counties.  The exterior was restored in the early decade of 1990s, and in 2002, the interior was restored.  Interior restoration of the "heavily modified" courthouse was accomplished through the Texas Historic Commission's Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, also at work on the restoration of the Throckmorton County Courthouse.
The courtroom originally featured decorative wall and ceiling painting, small wood balconies and patterned floor coverings, all of which were restored.  The original floor pattern was recreated in carpet...In the future, the community hopes to restore the design of the original courthouse square, which has been completely lost to highway and parking lots.
The present courthouse is the fourth for Parker County, and cost $55,555.55 (Parker County Courthouse, Weatherford Chamber of Commerce website).
The Seth Thomas Clock was installed in 1897 for $957.
 A Texas Historic Landmark, the Second Empire style limestone building is located in the "exact center of the county's geographic center" and is designated with a decorative floor (The present Parker County Courthouse, Texas Escapes.
Dodson's work on Texas courthouses spanned a 15-year period from 1883-98, and designed 12 courthouses.  Six remain as originally designed.  All 12 are similar in style, as can be noted from the comparative photographs at the link to 254 Texas Courthouses.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Weatherford, Texas Art Deco City Hall

Although the West Texas Chamber of Commerce submitted--among a large number of projects--a request for $10,000 to the Public Works Administration to construct the City Hall of Weatherford in 1933, there is no record that I can find that it was awarded and that PWA funds were used for the building (Abilene Reporter News. West Texas Projects Filed with Advisory Board of PWA. 12 November 1933, p. 4., retrieved from newspapers.com).
 The beautiful Art Deco inspired city hall/fire department was constructed in 1933 with funds provided by a bond election, and opened in January 1934.  I assume that the two large bays on the right of the photograph were the truck garages, with city hall offices located on the opposite side.
The building is currently used as an art center, which certainly seems fitting with the beautiful Art Deco details on the doors and brick pilasters.
 I have driven by many times, always struck by the beauty of the building and thinking someday to stop and photograph it.  I finally made time to do so on my last drive home from Texas to Mississippi.  I was pretty excited at first, thinking it might have been financed by the New Deal programs, but a diligent search of Texas newspapers shows no follow up to the request for PWA funds for the project, even with the reference to the project providing employment during the Depression.  Because funds provided by PWA and other programs came with requirements for local support, I thought it might be possible that the bond election was held to provide those additional funds needed, but there is no corroborating information I can locate as to that outcome.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thyatira School Complex in Tate County

The community of Thyatira, in rural Tate County between Senatobia and Holly Springs, was the home of the Thyatira School, a complex of 4 buildings constructed 1940-1941 by architects Emmett J. Hull and Eugene Drummond of Jackson, Mississippi (Mississippi Department of Archives & History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  Apparently, all that remains now is the gymnasium.  Thyatira was the name of one of the seven churches, a "city in Asia Minor" whose location is in western Turkey (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2008).

I would say that any resemblance of the community school to its namesake was missing in the 1970s--a tumultuous time in Mississippi's history.
 The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a Mississippi private school foundation barred from converting a former public school for use as a segregated educational facility.  The Tate Educational Foundation, Inc., which operated the all-white Thyatira school appealed to the high court.  The order left standing an injunction issued in June of 1972 by the Fifth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that the Thyatira building was purchased from a public school system.  The school was purchased from the Tate County School Board in 1970.  The Foundation insisted that no law prevents it from operating a segregated private school if it wants to.   (The state: Court refuses to hear private school appeal.  Delta Democrat Times (of Greenville, Mississippi), 26 June 1973, p. 8)
 The Thyatira complex had been last used by Tate County School Board during the 1969-1970 school year, with attendance by 35 students of both races, attended by two teachers (McNeal v. Tate County School District, U. S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, September 17, 1971.)  Plaintiffs-appellants were black citizens of Tate County, Mississippi.  The complaint:
...the Board of Education encouraged and fostered racially segregated education by selling the Thyatira School to the Tate County Foundation which converted the school into a private academy attended exclusively by white children.
The 4-building complex, located on six rural acres in Thyatira community, was sold for $4,001 on January 7, 1970, after the Tate County School Board determined it was not economically feasible to continue its operation for 35 students.  The U. S. District Court in Oxford upheld the sale from Tate County to the Foundation, with Harold W. Steward acting as the representative for the 80 citizens who had contributed $100 each to purchase the school with the intent to establish a private school.  Although the buildings were in a "dilapidated" state due to deterioration during the 30-year interval between construction and sale, the Foundation--prior to having possession of the building spent some $20,000 and donated labor in renovations and repairs (McNeil v. Tate County School District).
 In reversing the District Court decision to uphold the sale, the Fifth Circuit Court said
...the foundation sought to create a private school in order to avoid the impact of integration.  (Academy to Appeal, The Delta Democrat-Times, 24 September 1971, p. 16)
The Tate County School Board said it was not aware of plans to establish a school to be known as Hillcrest Academy.  The academy had an all-white faculty and student body.  The ruling stated that the school board "closed its eyes" to the school's future role in county education.
The Tate County Board of Education knew full-well of efforts to thwart integration by setting up academies, and yet, they made no effort to determine what use the purchases would make of Thyatira School. (Academy to Appeal)
 Circuit Judge Walter Gewin wrote the dissenting opinion, pointing out that the Foundation had publicly stated it operated the school in a nondiscriminatory racial policy.  True.  The Foundation issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed, that they operated under a nondiscriminatory policy, judging admissions only on moral character, education behavioral conduct, and education experience.  As pointed out by the Fifth Circuit Court, however, the foundation assembled an all-white faculty and accepted applications from 134 white students.  The Court opined that the annual tuition of $450 per student would likely prevent any black families from applying for admission.
The Fifth Circuit further stated the issue was the sale of the building to a private academy, and that local conditions could not be ignored in order for the School Board to claim it "did not know" that is what the foundation intended.  The School Boards were charged with "affirmative duty" to bring about unitary school systems free from racial discrimination, and that the establishment of private academies in former public school buildings amounted to increasing segregation, not lessening it.

After the U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the academy's appeal of the Fifth Circuit ruling, Mr. Steward stated that although the academy had a nondiscriminatory policy and had no intention of altering it, "no law prevents us from operating a segregated private school if we want to."  Maybe not, but the law could prevent public school boards from facilitating and contributing to the establishment of private discriminatory schools, using public school properties that had been paid for with tax dollars.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Old Gym Pavilion, Newcastle and Setting History Straight

There is no Caddo Monster.  There is no Big Foot.  There is no Loch Ness Monster.  And, there was no WPA in 1931.  It had not been developed yet: that would not come until 1935 under the administration of President Roosevelt.  The Public Works Administration (PWA) was established in 1933. 
Hoover was still president in 1931, and he had been reluctant to address the effects of the Great Depression, which is precisely why he was not re-elected.  Now, President Hoover had promoted some some things, most notably the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which provided for construction of Federal buildings such as courthouses and post offices, the Wagner Employment Stabilization Act of 1931, which saws its Public Works Section especially active, the Emergency Relief and Construction Act in 1932, which called for expenditures for public works at all levels of government, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932, which lent money for public dams, toll bridges, and slum clearance, and for debt relief to the railroads.  The Emergency Relief and Construction Act permitted loans to states or cities for relief and work relief, for self-liquidating construction projects such as water works facilities.  Self-liquidating assets are those that will bring a "sufficient return to pay back the loan and its interest and leave a profit."
The gymnasium may have been built with Federal support, but it was most certainly not the WPA workers if it was constructed in 1931.  Texas did not apply for funds under the ECRA until late in 1932, and by then, "the well proved more difficult to tap" (New York Times, 31 July 1932, p. 8, as cited in Sautter). 
...the 1931 act accomplished precious little.  Its loose wording left the initiative to those charged with its implementation, and the administration took care to see its views carried out....Nobody could claim that the passage of the ERCA meant the adoption of a vigorous federal public works program.
  Total expenditures for unemployment relief on the local, state, and federal levels are thought to have amounted to about $600 million in 1932.  whatever percentage of this sum went to public works and work relief, the employment effect cannot have been very pronounced.  (Sautter, 1991)
Nor could the public works section of the ECRA have funded the efforts at building the gym, since that would not have come in 1931.
So, who did finance the gym, and in what year?  This is a mystery I have spent over a year trying to unravel.  The information I originally had was that an article in the Newcastle Register, the local paper, indicated the gym was built by the CCC sometime in the 1930s.  This was contradictory to the information I had from my father, who attended school in Newcastle during the construction of the gym, who said it was WPA workers.  Somehow in my correspondence with the Young county historian who had advised about the Newcastle Register article and the CCC origins of the gym, I had overlooked a subsequent note from him that he had located minutes from the 1936 school board meeting.  I ran across it yesterday, and in much surprise since I don't recall getting it from him in the first place.  But that was during a difficult time when I was traveling back and forth to Texas on a monthly basis to help out with caregiving, so I cut myself some slack on losing it.
28 January 1936. Consideration was given to building a gym as a WPA project at Newcastle.  On 2 February 1936, the school board came up with a matching $3,800 and the building was underway.  WPA employee A. C. Duckett was assigned project superintendent.

By searching with the specific year, I found an article in the January 1937 Olney Enterprise that referenced the new gym.
Students at Newcastle have been enjoying their newly-completed gymnasium, which was erected through the aid of the WPA. (p. 8, 15 January 1937, retrieved from newspapers.com)
Searching in the 1936 archives led me to 17 July 1936, and the article "WPA Renewed on County Projects." Projects were stopped July 1 when the old order of WPA ended (probably due to fiscal year changes) and resumed again later in the month.
The Newcastle gymnasium will be completed, and restoration of Fort Belknap will be continued.  Both these projects were begun last fall as education improvements to Young county.  The gym will be of immense practical value, and the restored Fort will be used in many reunions and historical occasions held in the county.--Graham Leader. (The Olney Enterprise, p. 10, retrieved from newspapers.com)
So, how did folks who put up the memorial marker get the idea it was built in 1931?  Rand suggested that they might have been using documents that were faded, and the 7 looked like a 1.  Many people don't know much about the history of the New Deal administration and the Federal projects employed to address the Great Depression's devastating effects.  Everything is "WPA" to most of them, even though there were a number of differing projects used for different purposes.  History, particularly the specific year, is of little concern to some folks as well.  If you had a parent or grandparent, as I did, who had lived through the Depression years, you grew up hearing about it, and the impact on their lives.  
I remember one Halloween carnival held in the gym when I was 5 or 6.  Our house was just across the road from the school, so I saw that old rock gym standing behind the school building every day.  Many communities have been able to save the buildings that were constructed by the New Deal, and they remain in use today.  Others, like Newcastle, for whatever reasons, demolished them or they sit abandoned and in ruins.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
Hitlzik, M. (2010). Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century.  New York: Free Press.
Hughes, L. P. (1999). Hoover's Tragic Presidency.  Austin Community College.
Ludwig von Mises Institute: Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace.
Rothbard, M. N. (2000). America's Great Depression (5th ed.) Auburn, AL: Mises Institute.
Sautter, U. (1991). Three Cheers for the Unemployed: Government and Unemployment Before the New Deal.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, N. (2008). The Great Depression: A Short History of the Great Depression. New York Times.